LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: THE UNDECIDED HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!
Lennox Lewis v. Zeljko Mavrovic
Mohegan Sun Casino
September 26, 1998
UNCASVILLE, CT: Sept. 26, 1998 -- The Mohegan Sun Casino, nestled in a quiet patch of the Connecticut countryside once known for an aquarium and a model whaling village, seems to explode at you, jutting out of nowhere in a flamboyant tangle of steel and glass. Outside, in a specially-erected pavilion, mildly-enigmatic WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis would contest his belt with outright-kooky Croatian Zeljko Mavrovic, a mohawked mystery man with a macrobiotic diet, his own private mantra and a trainer named (memo to the NAACP: I ain't making this up) "Darkie." Inside the casino, it's an all-out sensory frontier war between Native American tradition and high-tech gaming kitsch, bits and pieces of the Mohegan's maize-and-umber visual tradition pasted on walls, ceilings and boutique merchandise as if they had been shot from a blunderbuss. To imagine the wild ride the inside of this place takes your eyes on, picture John Ford, Bugsy Siegel and Frank Lloyd Wright locked in a room together, with instructions not to emerge until they had agreed on the perfect building. Oh yeah, and throw in Walt Disney as referee. Providing the perfect soundtrack is the otherworldly, tuning-fork sound of thousands of slot machines whirring in unison. It's a mind-bending experience.
As I walked down through the bustling lobby on my way to the boxing arena, I was struck by an arresting 30-foot tower of fiberglass tree trunks, topped by an odd metal bowl. I asked a comely brunette event staffer with a fight-night laminate what the sculpture was supposed to represent. "That's a smudge bowl," she said. "The Mohegans used to light them to ward off evil spirits. We'll be lighting one in the parking lot at 6:00 before the fight."
In retrospect, given Lewis' lackluster and very uninspiring 12-round unanimous decision, a performance that will surely represent another speed bump on his two-steps-forward-three-steps-back career, I would guess that they should have
used a bigger bowl. Much bigger.
Lewis had no doubt hoped to use his HBO party to showcase still more of the firepower he exhibited against unexpectedly-tough Shannon Briggs. Mavrovic, an 8-1 underdog, was thirty pounds lighter than Lewis, three inches shorter, and had padded his record with soft European opposition. He figured to be no more than an hors d'oeuvre. How he landed in the WBC's No. 1 contender spot was anyone's guess. But things did not turn out as planned. An unusually vocal Croatian contingent, sad-eyed twentysomethings wrapped in Croatian flags and soccer jerseys, was louder than anyone could have expected and easily drowned out any comped working stiffs who might have screamed for Lennox. And Mavrovic himself, far from playing the part of walkover that had been scripted for him, proved awkward and frustrating, occasionally aggressive, and much better at handling a punch than the US fight mob might have guessed. Too bad the combination of lackadaisical champion and stubborn challenger made for such a turgid contest, one of the overly-long, off-peak performances for which
Lewis has, unfortunately, become known in this country and which have kept his fan base relatively small.
The first three rounds of this bout saw Lewis circling, jabbing lazily, seeming to have little interest in the contest, while Mavrovic -- perhaps simply from hanging around -- got brave, even daring to push Lewis back to the ropes with a tame but flashy volley in the third. And through it all, chants of "Zel-jko! Zel-jko!" from the Croatian partisans, sounds which could not have played too well through those millions of British tellies. Rounds four through six saw Lewis, realizing that Mavrovic could not hurt him, beginning to assert himself as a fighter would with a sparring partner, launching power shots in carefully moderated bursts, almost as if to thwart any definitive barrage he might be tempted to launch.
Mavrovic's straight-up style, pitty-pat punches, and looping right hands should have given Lewis all the openings he needed to launch a decisive attack, but, inexplicably, he spent significant parts of rounds seven and eight on the ropes and, by round nine, the crowd had the feeling that Mavrovic had already won a moral, if not literal, victory. Although the tail end of round eleven saw Lewis react with something approaching desperation and abandon, the rest of the contest saw oddly listless action, Mavrovic doing what seemed to be the best he could; Lewis doing what appeared to be the minimum he thought he needed. At no time was anyone knocked down or hurt, and the whole affair was relatively free of drama or shifts of momentum. It all
seemed like the world's largest open workout, hardly a shot in the arm to a man who has always worn the tag of "boring fighter."
Our pal Gus assessed Lewis best, I think, after the bout's final bell: "He's gonna take the fight, but he lost a lot of credibility in there. He fought like the undecided heavyweight champion of the world..." I haven't heard any of the full-time boxing sages put Lewis' dilemma any more succinctly.
While the judges handed Lewis the fight by comfortable margins, you had to feel that his campaign to gin up public pressure for a Holyfield title bout was damaged by tonight's effort. Sure, styles make fights, and anyone can run into an awkward fighter that makes him look bad, but fans have recently seen Lewis unable to decisively KO a pair of fighters (McCall, Akinwande) who clearly wanted no part of any fight, and suffer a close call against a boxer tarnished by a bad (and possibly corrupt) decision (Shannon Briggs). None of these situations added any lustre to Lewis' crown. Now, the people have seen Lennox again struggle in a bout he was expected to easily win. The Mavrovic victory won't make anyone scream any more lustily for a Lewis-Holyfield bout. And it's a shame, because with nonentity challengers everywhere on the horizon (Akinwande, Vaughn Bean), a match between a peaking Holyfield and a peaking Lewis would do much to help nurse a sorely-dissipated sport back to health.
In the undercard bouts:
Bobby Tomasello (3-0; Boston, MA) KO'd Clayton Jones (0-2; Charleston, SC) in the third of a four-round featherweight contest.
In a fairly sloppy junior lightweight six that featured more wild swinging than a White House Christmas party, a game Eugene Johnson (5-6; Atlanta, GA) tried to make the fight against much-ballyhooed Cuban emigre Joel Casamayor (13-0; Miami, FL), but could not overcome a third-round knockdown and dropped a unanimous, but unpopular, decision.
Middleweight Roshii Wells (8-0; Atlanta, GA) TKO'd the tough but unfortunately-named Robert "Killer" Koon (20-4-1; Mobile, AL) in the last stanza of a scheduled eight.
Heavyweight David Tua (32-1; Auckland, NZ), who was to have faced Baltimore's Hasim Rahman in a co-feature that had whet more than a few appetites, dispatched last-minute sub Eric Curry (22-6; Detroit, MI), who had apparently trained little for the bout, in a grand total of :43.
Belfast flyweight Damaen Kelly (7-0) posted an unanimous decision win in an internationally-telecast bout against the surprising Baltimore fighter Mike Thomas (3-1-1), who actually had Kelly down in the fifth of their scheduled eight.
Soviet Georgia's Georgie Kandelaki (2-0), in a wild and relatively unskilled exhibition, needed less than two rounds of their scheduled four to KO Charleston, SC's Steven Archie, who opened his professional career with a loss.
September 27, 1998
Lewis Retains WBC Title!
By Francis Walker
He did not look pretty, nor was he flamboyant - But Lennox Lewis got the job done!
On Saturday, September 26, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville,Connecticut, Lewis (34-1, 27KOs) retained the WBC heavyweight championship with a unanimous decision against No. 1 contender Zeljko Mavrovic (27-1, 22KOs). The victory, which was Lewis' eighth defense in two reigns as champ, moves him one step closer toward a unification war against Evander Holyfield.
The bout, promoted by Panix Promotions in association with Main Events Monitor, was televised on HBO's "World Championship Boxing."
At 6' 5," 243 pounds, Lewis, a 33-year-old native of London, England, is a huge man with all of the "natural physical attributes" to be the best in the world. However, Lewis' biggest problem, despite having a famed teacher in trainer Emanuel Steward, is blending his talents with superb boxing skills. Fighting a 6' 3," 214-pound Croatian like Mavrovic, who at 29 years of age has
not fought anybody, Lewis should have knocked him out cold. Nonetheless, that did not happen.
In the early rounds, Lewis played chess and fought Mavrovic's fight. After a series of faints, Lewis often paused and countered with single left-jabs and straight-rights. Lewis did not throw the superior left-jab flurries which helped dismantle Shannon Briggs (KO 1) in March. Nor did Lewis have the dazzling right-hand accuracy he displayed against Andrew Golota (KO 1) last October. Instead, Lewis was rather dull, awkward, and un-eventful. The same way he was against Henry Akinwande (W DQ 5) in July 1997.
Throughout the entire fight, Lewis barely threw a sharp combination. Lewis managed to hurt Mavrovic and have him reeling with a few good over-hand rights and uppercuts. Lewis' punches would have had more of an effect if he were to throw combinations behind his left-jab. Mavrovic, who never had any quality opposition on any level, held Lewis everytime the champion nailed him with a power shot.
It was ugly, but no one said Lewis-Mavrovic would be pretty.
As the bout reached the later rounds, Lewis' championship experience and endurance began to open-up. Lewis' constant body attack had Mavrovic do more running than anticipated. Mavrovic managed to land some clean left and right hook flurries to the Lewis' chin, but they had little effect. Lewis, the counter-puncher, backed Mavrovic up with a single left-jab and straight-right combos to his temple. As tiring as it was to watch, that was the scenario for the entire twelve rounds...
At the end of the bout all three judges scored the bout 119-109, 117-112, and 117-111 in favor of the champion.
While Holyfield, coming fresh of his victory against IBF mandatory Vaughn Bean (W 12) on September 19, prepares to meet WBA No. 1 contender Akinwande very soon, Lewis is going to have to need one great outing to force a heavyweight unification battle.
When it was all said and done, Lennox Lewis still has his WBC Heavyweight title. But he failed to impress just like Evander Holyfield's victory over Vaughn Bean of one week ago. Lewis did win the fight by lopsided scores of 119-109, 117-111, and 117-112. But he looked tired only 8 rounds into the fight. Perhaps he was looking past the little-known Zeljko Mavrovic (27-1, 22 KO's) to a possible Dream Fight with Holyfield. In the end, Mavrovic had a bloody nose, a swollen eye, and abrasions over the left eye and under the right eye. Lewis (34-1, 27 KO's) had a pair of swollen eyes, a bloody mouth, and the WBC Championship belt.
It was a hard-fought contest for Lennox. Lewis, of England, started
the fight by keeping Zeljko, of Croatia, at bay with the jab. After pumping the jab to
Mavrovic's face, a small cut opened over the challenger's left eye. Though it was not a
threatening cut, it was still enough to put the round in favor of the Champion. Mavrovic
stole Round 3 when he was able to stagger Lewis with a devastating right hand. Round 4
turned the tide back in favor of Lennox Lewis, 243. Lewis rocked Mavrovic, 214½, with a
right hand and dominated the round. Lewis won Round 5 after several effective jabs and
left hooks to the body. Round 6 was also won by the Champion.
Round 7 was Mavrovic's best round of the fight. With Lewis walking around with his hands down and his chin out, Mavrovic took advantage of Lennox' hot-dogging and landed with combinations that shook the champion. Amazingly, Lennox came back and rocked Zeljko toward the end of the round.
Lewis won the next 3 rounds by continuing the style he had adapted to.
Mavrovic came back in Round 11 and once again rocked the champion with 1-2 combinations.
Once again, Lennox came back toward the end of the round. Amazingly, CompuBox showed that
Mavrovic had only landed 3 of 11 punches in that round.
Mavrovic showed his incredible chin in Round 12 when he stood up to some of the best punches I have ever seen Lennox Lewis throw. This man truly amazed me and probably everyone associated with boxing. The Croatian lost the final round and the fight, but showed everyone why he got this title fight. I scored the match 116-112 in favor of the champion.
Lewis, who went the 12-round distance for only the second time in his career, landed 216 out of 507 punches according to CompuBox. Mavrovic, who also went 12 for the second time, landed 132 of 298 punches.
This was truly a performance that Mavrovic can build off of. But for Lennox Lewis, boxing fans will be criticizing him. I think that Lewis deserves more than that because the man he's fighting was 214½ pounds of iron. This man took some of the biggest shots I have ever seen Lewis throw.